Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources erred in approving a key permit for a controversial 14-story telescope currently under construction at the summit of Haleakala, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The decision marks a major victory for Kilakila O Halealaka, a Native Hawaiian group on Maui that has been fighting for several years against the University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy’s telescope.

Kilakila O Haleakala had requested a contested case hearing before the land board on the telescope’s conservation use permit. Instead, the board went ahead and approved the permit in December 2010 under then Chair Laura Thielen, effectively denying the group’s hearing request.

Kilakila O Halealaka, represented by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, sued the state, arguing that the permit should have never been issued because the land board was required to hold a hearing and allow the group to present their arguments against the project.

Two lower courts previously ruled that they didn’t have jurisdiction in the case, allowing the permit to stand. But the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the courts did have jurisdiction in the matter and that there should have been a hearing before the board voted on the permit.

“The Hawaii Constitution provides a basis for a contested case hearing, through the Constitution’s protection of Native Hawaiian rights, due process protections, and protection of the public interest,” Judge Paula Nakayama wrote in her opinion. “Thus . . . KOH satisfies the requirement that a contested case hearing is required by law through constitutional means.”

What this means for the $300 million project isn’t exactly clear, according to David Kimo Frankel, Kilakila O Halealaka’s attorney. “But I believe that the court’s ruling will lead to the invalidation of the December 2010 permit,” he said.

The case has been thrown back to Circuit Court to determine the implications of the Supreme Court decision.

The Advanced Technology Solar Telescope is designed to allow astrophysicists to study solar wind and solar flares and their impact on Earth’s climate. But Kilakila O Haleakala says that it mars an important cultural site.

UPDATE: The Institute of Astronomy will likely continue construction on the telescope, despite the Supreme Court ruling, according to a statement provided by Michael Maberry, the Institute of Astronomy’s assistant director.

After the Board of Land and Natural Resources issued the 2010 permit, it opened a contested case and hired a hearing officer to issue an opinion on whether Kilakila O Haleakala should have been allowed to intervene in the first place and whether or not the 2010 permit should have been issued.

The hearing officer concluded that Kilakila O Haleakala shouldn’t have been allowed to intervene and that the permit was properly issued. Subsequently, in November 2012, the Board of Land and Natural Resources voted to reaffirm approval of the permit.

The sequence of events was highly irregular, according to attorneys with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, who at the time equated it to a judge ruling on a case, then hearing the case and then ruling again on it.

But, Maberry said in an email to Civil Beat late Friday that the 2012 ruling allows the telescope to move forward, despite the Supreme Court decision.

“Today’s Hawaii Supreme Court ruling was with respect to an earlier 2010 permit that was superseded by the 2012 permit,” wrote Maberry. “The Supreme Court’s ruling does not affect the 2012 permit. The university expects that construction of the ATST will continue under the 2012 permit.”

You can read the Supreme Court ruling below:

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